Salad Tossed with Broken Dressing

My go-to salad dressing is what’s sometimes called in culinary circles a “broken dressing,” that is, a dressing that is not totally emulsified as is, for example, a classic vinaigrette. Growing up in an Italian-American household, we had a salad at the end of every meal, typically iceberg but occasion it was mixed with arugula, frisee, or even escarole. But the dressing was always the same: plenty of vinegar (either red-wine or cider), a splash of oil, a little dry mustard, a pressed garlic clove, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar.

When I started to cook for myself in the early 70s, influenced by the likes of Claiborne, Beard, and Child, I started to make the classic vinaigrette that used far more olive oil and considerably less vinegar than my family’s dressing and replaced the dry mustard with Dijon. I mastered it and motivated by compliments always used it at dinner parties. Yet when I dined alone, I returned to my familial broken dressing, but kept the change in mustard.

The other night, however, at a small dinner party, in a rush to get a salad onto the table, I used this dressing on a salad of hearts of romaine. Our guests remarked that they found the dressing light and refreshing. Those comments made me think that maybe my family’s retro dressing is ready for a revival at future get togethers at home.

Here’s my recipe; the measurements are approximate as I only make this dressing by eye.

1/3 cup red-wine vinegar, or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, grated
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

One final note. Owing to the amount of vinegar, only dress the salad immediately before serving to avoid wilting the greens.


4 thoughts on “Musing: A Broken Dressing

  1. My mother used the same dressing and her roots was German. I am just a little older then you. Bottled dressing was just getting a real foothold in the 1970’s on the family dinner table. I remember when Child got her start on the local college UHF station. I would rush in the door from getting off the school bus and turn the rabbit ears in the right direction before I would even drop my books down so I could watch her. I was in charge of starting supper before my parents got home and she was my inspiration on the how to’s.

    You are right about people haven’t been exposed to fresh made dressings on salads that was our normal fair growing up. They also don’t know how easy they can be made. They don’t know the difference between a vinaigrette and a French dressing or a broken dressing and a emulsified dressing. I have seen a lot of interest in salad recipes on my posts. The post that has the most views and still getting traffic is a salad dressing I posted 6 years ago. The picture is not even very good. I am better at taking food pictures now but I don’t want to up date the pic so I don’t break the link.

    I think we were very lucky to grow up then because the adults in our lives learned their household skills before there was all the commercial products to make things “convenient” so to speak. It is nice to share what we were handed down. I am looking forward to more of your posts.

  2. As a child my father kept an extensive garden with a full compliment of salad greens. It wasn’t unusual to have salads twice a day and as an entree with meat added every other week. We were almost exclusively broken dressing consumers and my Mom had a method of tossing that I believe she adopted from Adelle Davis’ “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit”. Her method involved measuring the Tablespoon of oil over the greens, tossing them very well until the leaves were coated, adding the seasonings to the vinegar and pouring over the oiled greens. Sealing the greens with oil helped keep them from wilting as quickly and also prevented them from soaking up too much seasoned vinegar. There were seldom leftovers!

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